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Updated: 5 min 41 sec ago

4 Practice Squad players who are protected in Week 3 include Deon Cain

26 min 37 sec ago
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have protected their four weekly practice squad players heading into Week 3.

In 2020 things are run differently than in years past. The practice squad roster is expanded to 16 players, including veterans, and four of those players can be protected on a week-to-week basis.

A player being labeled as protected means another team cannot poach them off the practice squad and add them to their active roster, like the Pittsburgh Steelers did by signing former draft pick Jerald Hawkins off the Houston Texans’ practice squad heading into Week 2.

Through two weeks, the Steelers’ protected payers have mainly remained the same. The mainstays have been DL Henry Mondeaux, LB Jayrone Elliott and RB Wendell Smallwood. However, Derwin Gray was promoted to the active roster leading up to the Week 2 game vs. the Denver Broncos meaning a new player would be protected in Week 3.

That player would be WR Deon Cain.

This per Joe Rutter of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review after noting the expected departure of Daniel McCullers.

According to the NFL transactions report, Big Dan McCuller terminated his contract on the practice squad, which likely means he is joining another team's active roster. Practice squad protections this week are Deon Cain, Wendell Smallwood, Jayrone Elliott & Henry Mondeaux.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) September 22, 2020

With McCullers expected to sign elsewhere it means there will be a vacancy on the team’s practice squad which will need to be filled. When this happens is anyone’s guess, but if/when it does occur you can expect the news right here at BTSC.

In the meantime, the Steelers will go into Week 3 protecting Mondeaux, Elliott, Smallwood and Cain on the outside chance they will be needed in an emergency situation. Some might read a lot into the positions which are protected, but the Steelers can also use this tool to keep players they like and want to develop in their system safe from being picked up by another club.

Stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for the Houston Texans in Week 3 at Heinz Field.

3 Steelers leading the NFL at their position according to Pro Football Focus

1 hour 26 min ago
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

After only two weeks of the 2020 season, three Steelers players are standing out above the rest at their position

I’ve said it many times before, but I will say it once again: When it comes to grading NFL players, Pro Football Focus sometimes gets it right while other times they are completely off-base. Some people love the rankings while others put no faith in how they score a players performance. There are arguments for both sides.

Instead of going into the legitimacy of PFF’s grades, I am simply going to present the data which they supply. And when it comes to the 2020 season to date, the Pittsburgh Steelers have three individual players who have the highest grade at their position group among qualifying players. PFF has a system where players must play a certain number of snaps in order to qualify in the rankings, but players are still given individual scores.

So who were the three Steelers who are at the top of the position group? I’ll tell you this much before we dive in: One is obvious, the other is interesting but not a surprise if you’ve been paying attention, and the other one kind of came out of nowhere.

T.J. Watt

1st- Edge Defenders
93.7 Overall Grade

For Steelers fans, this is no surprise. Not only should T.J. Watt have won Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, he is still showing in 2020 how much of a game-changer he is on the edge. With 2.5 sacks and an interception already on the season, Watt will continue to terrorize opposing offenses and is a great candidate to hold his number one position throughout the season.

Watts overall score is more than 3.5 points higher than the next closest edge defender in Khalil Mack of the Chicago Bears. Watt and Mack are the only two players with the score in the 90s as edge defenders. Surprisingly, Watt’s fellow edge rusher Bud Dupree is ranked 74th of 105 qualifying players.

Tyson Alualu

1st- Interior Defenders
91.1 Overall Grade

Although it is somewhat of a surprise to see Alualu on top of the list, those who have been paying attention would know he has been setting the tone for this defense as the man in the middle. Alualu‘s grade is 4.4 points higher than the next closest defender in Larry Ogunjobi of the Cleveland Browns. Just behind Ogunjobi is Alualu’s teammate Cameron Heyward coming in at the third position. Another notable player, All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald, is currently ranked sixth.

Whether or not Alualu can hold onto this ranking remains to be seen. Frankly, I don’t think he really cares. Alualu has been a great free-agent acquisition for the Steelers as a player who just shows up and does whatever is asked to make the team better. A more in depth commentary on Alualu from BTSC’s Shannon White can be seen HERE.

Chase Claypool

1st- Wide Receiver
91.6 Overall Grade

I have to admit, this ranking caught me way off guard. I knew Chase Claypool was having a very good season to start off his rookie campaign, but the fact that he has not reached 100 yards receiving a game or had multiple touchdown receptions made me not even consider him to be the top guy at his position. But after thinking about it, Claypool has caught every ball thrown his way and also had a successful fourth down run in the Steelers first game.

The notion of Claypool continuing to catch every target for the season is a bit of a pipe dream. Additionally, keeping pace with the likes of the Falcons Calvin Ridley, who already has four touchdowns on the season and is ranked second 1.4 points behind Claypool, is a large ask of the young receiver. Frankly, trying to hold this ranking should not be anywhere in the minds of Steelers fans. Instead, the young wide receiver just needs to continue to make his presence known as he continues to gain NFL experience.

So these are the three Pittsburgh Steelers players currently ranked first at their position in the NFL for the 2020 season. What are your thoughts about these rankings? Are these players deserving of the recognition they’re getting early on? Or does Pro Football Focus not really show much credibility in both who may have ranked high and who they don’t? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

Tyson Alualu's accolades earned this season are no overreaction

2 hours 26 min ago
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

After a rough start to his NFL career, Steelers DT Tyson Alualu has found a home and a family in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans are nothing if not passionate. Sometimes we even have a tendency to overreact on occasion. I know it is hard to believe, but it does happen from time to time. The comment threads of many BTSC articles have offered indisputable evidence of these overreactions over the years.

A couple of seasons ago a rookie running back for the Steelers enjoyed a particularly successful outing against the porous rush defense of the New England Patriots, leading to a coveted home victory against their arch nemesis. Suddenly the young man, without the skill set of a natural running back or meaningful experience playing the position, was anointed a real threat to usurp the oft injured starter James Conner. History shows us that was definitely an overreaction.

Already this season, we Steelers fans are at it again. James Conner seems to have the misfortune of being a key contributor in many of these rushes to judgment prematurely. Conner was ineffective in the early portions of the Week 1 game against the New York Giants before tweaking his ankle and being ruled out for the rest of the game. Backup RB Benny Snell enters the game and makes the most of the opportunity, enjoying his first hundred yard outing in the NFL.

Suddenly, Conner's game is being compared to a vagrant living on the streets, and many Steelers fans immediately claimed they knew that Snell was the answer to the Steelers prayers at running back all along. Sure was a nice day dream, but fumbles can turn any dream into a nightmare.

I readily admit I have grown frustrated with Conner's injury tendencies, and I was encouraged by Snell's strong performance on Monday Night Football. However, I have expressed my desire for a running back by committee approach to be adopted by the Steelers coaching staff for a couple of seasons now. In theory, utilizing the Steelers talented stable of running backs would reduce the wear and tear on Conner, hopefully helping to keep him healthy and on the field. Tomlin doesn't like the committee approach, but if he has multiple backs running effectively and displaying proper ball security, maybe he can be persuaded to change his mind.

One prevalent overreaction that was always present throughout the off season was the Steelers glaring lack of a proven nose tackle. Forget the fact that the traditional nose tackle that most fans were clamoring for has went the way of the dodo bird. That would be extinct for anybody not grasping the connection. The days of Casey Hampton and Vince Wolfork, two of the all time greats at the position, are no more. The usage against modern day NFL offenses hardly justifies the need for a specialist. Simply slide a stout run stuffing defensive tackle over when the need arises. The Steelers did so for years with recently departed Javon Hargrave.

That's why I wasn't concerned in the slightest when Hargrave took his talents to Philadelphia. The Steelers had the perfect replacement already on the roster in veteran DT Tyson Alualu. Alualu has proven to be a excellent depth player and emergency fill in for oft injured Stephon Tuitt during his time spent in the Steel City. It's almost as if Alualu has discovered the fountain of youth and is playing like the former first round pick he actually is.

Here's my submission for Steelers Nation overreaction of the week. Tyson Alualu is a better fit to man the nose tackle position when needed for the Steelers than Javon Hargrave ever was. There, I said it, and I am not taking it back. At this stage of his career, Alualu is more of a pure nose tackle than the Gravedigger.

Alualu has been an impact performer for the Steelers defense this season. He has solidified his already impressive resume as a run stuffing defensive lineman. He readily sacrifices his body and opportunities to make head turning splash plays by anchoring well against the running game, often tying up multiple blockers and disrupting running lanes in the process. Somehow his play this season reminds me of the great Mean Joe Greene.

Now I am in no way trying to compare Alualu to the greatest defensive lineman in Steelers history. Talk about an overreaction. I am simply referring to how Mean Joe sacrificed his own body and the glamour of statistics for the betterment of the Steel Curtain defenses in the latter part of his illustrious Hall of Fame career. Alualu has that same type of team first mindset.

Alualu has absolutely destroyed the opposition on the few occasions he has been engaged with a blocker one on one. He has generated consistent pressure on the QB and collapsed the pocket with regularity when given the opportunity. Against the Broncos Alualu batted down a pass at the line of scrimmage and picked up his first sack of the season.

BTSC distinguished co-editor Dave Schofield sent me this interesting little truth nugget after reviewing this article. After the first 2 weeks of the season, Alualu is the highest rated interior defensive lineman in the NFL according to PFF, and it's not even close.

Tyson Alualu is a easy man to overlook; due to the humble nature of the man, and all the superstar players surrounding him on defense. That doesn't mean it's ok to take him for granted. That would truly be a shame. I stand behind that statement, as it is no overreaction.

T.J. Watt named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 2

3 hours 14 min ago
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers OLB was a dominant force vs. the Denver Broncos in Week 2.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have long been known for their defense. If you wanted to get more specific they have always been known for their pass rushers. Whether it was Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Joey Porter, LaMarr Woodley or James Harrison, the staple of the modern era Steelers defense has always been a dominant edge defender.

This tradition continues with T.J. Watt, and he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week winner after his performance vs. the Denver Broncos in Week 2.

Watt a performance @_TJWatt has been named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week 2️⃣.

MORE: https://t.co/sliDwHRCLL pic.twitter.com/GL1rqo6wlC

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 23, 2020

Against the Broncos Watthad 2.5 sacks for a loss of 20 yards, four quarterback hits and four tackles. All of the sacks were against Jeff Driskel, who came in after Drew Lock left the game injured.

In fact, on the play where Lock was injured, it was Watt who tripped up Lock and eventually ended with Bud Dupree getting the sack fumble.

Winning these type of awards isn’t new for Watt, last season he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November, and twice named AFC Defensive Player of the Week in 2018.

Watt leads the NFL in sacks after two weeks, and hopes to add to that total this Sunday when Deshaun Watson, and brother J.J. Watt, and the Houston Texaxns visit Heinz Field for a big AFC Matchup.

Be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they prepare for their next opponent.

Time to officially crown Ben Roethlisberger the head of his QB class

3 hours 41 min ago
Dec 4, 2016; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (7) and New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning (10) meet after their game at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 24-14. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports | Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Ben Roethlisberger is now, officially, the head of his quarterback draft class of 2004.

After watching Philip Rivers in his new Indianapolis Colt’s jersey the first few weeks of the 2020 NFL season, and with Eli Manning probably on a golf course somewhere on Sundays, it seems safe to officially crown Ben Roethlisberger the king of the 2004 quarterback draft class.

This is not a slight to Rivers and Manning. Both have had tremendous careers. That 2004 group of QBs will go down in history as one of the most productive ever. And, yes, I know that Philip Rivers is still playing, but if last season is a precursor to his play in 2020 then he should be pulling the clubs out of his bag and joining Eli on the links.

Last season, Rivers shot putted his deep attempts with a perceptible decline in arm strength. He has always had a peculiar delivery, but it was a noticeable difference. Over the past few seasons, Rivers has made Austin Eckler and Melvin Gordon his favorite receivers not named Keenan Allen, as well as tight end Hunter Henry when he can stay healthy on the field. Screens and dump-offs to these short pass targets have become his staple.

42 catches for Gordon, 92 catches for Eckler, and 55 catches for Henry in 2019.

Keenan Allen caught 104 balls, but only for an 11.5 average. There was Mike Williams with an impressive 20.4 average, but the noticeable stat for Rivers was that he threw 20 interceptions against only 24 TDs.

You know these interceptions did not come on his multitude of screens to his RBs. Throwing deep has become a dicey proposition for him.

And, unless his 2020 season changes, Rivers has simply made the Indianapolis Colts the Los Angeles Chargers East. In his first game, Rivers anointed Nyheim Hines the new Austin Eckler with 8 receptions, and even rookie Jonathon Taylor – whose knocks coming out of college were his receiving ability (!) and fumbling – hauled in 6 receptions. To top it off, running back Marlon Mack had 3 receptions before leaving very early with an injury, and add 6 receptions to speedster Parris Campbell who ran short patterns out of the slot, ala Keenan Allen.

Moreover, he threw 2 interceptions and 1 TD. There seems to be little reason to believe he is in any kind of talent ascent or holding pattern. He is still capable but has declined. Can he do a declining Peyton Manning repeat and win a Super Bowl in this descent? Maybe, but it seems unlikely.

So, his career is impressive numbers-wise even though he never hoisted a Lombardi. There very well is a spot in Canton for him even if he does not pull off a Peyton Manning/John Elway-type Super Bowl victory in the future. It may take some time to get in the Hall, but you can’t say he was not a top quarterback of his time. He had some good teams, won many games, put up numbers and came close to the title game, but the top prize was elusive.

Not so for Eli Manning. In fact, winning the Super Bowl is the biggest reason that Manning will probably get his ugly gold jacket. Not only did he win his two attempts, he also was declared MVP of each game. That’s huge. When you are voted the top player on the NFL’s biggest stage, it gets no better than that.

That is every player’s goal each season, or at least it should be. Get to the big game and then be the best in that game. And, the fact that one came against the highly favored and undefeated New England Patriots can’t be understated. It’s a team sport and certainly the Giant’s killer pass rush played a huge role, but Eli’s accomplishment versus the GOAT was his golden moment. And, that he beat the Patriots twice in Super Bowls, well that’s just impressive, enough said.

Now, the rest of Manning’s career is not as sterling. Aside from an impressive longevity streak, Eli was not dominating during his career. Comparing stats and regular season play between Philip Rivers and Eli Manning, you have to favor Rivers. He simply struck more fear into his opponents. Eli was more than capable as a quarterback, but I see him as very good — not great.

His career record was 117-117. His touchdown percentage was 4.5% and his interception percentage was 3.0%.

Meh.

He certainly was a stat compiler. But, when you start 234 games, you’re going to compile stats. However, his career is over and cemented in the books, and there will be no more stats to compile. So, head-to-head between Rivers and Manning, give Rivers the career “greatness” edge, and give Eli Manning the “Lombardi” nod. Both are impressive QBs who will end up in the Hall of Fame, most likely.

While you can question the election to Canton for both of these players, you can’t question — and nobody of consequence does — that Ben Roethlisberger is a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee. You don’t have to put a “most likely” qualifier with his name.

This has to be extremely gratifying to Roethlisberger. He was not shy at all about revealing how he used as motivation that he was chosen third of those coveted QBs in that draft. Honestly, I remember the Steelers being high on Rivers, so, if given the choice, I’m not so sure they wouldn’t have chosen him.

While the Chargers drafted Eli number one and then, strangely, traded him to the Giants who picked Philip Rivers at four because of Manning’s (petty) public refusal to play for the Chargers, the Steelers were “stuck” with Roethlisberger.

Thank God.

We will never know for sure how the Steelers had all three ranked, but Roethlisberger’s fall to the Steelers ignited the franchise that suffered through poor QB play since Terry Bradshaw retired. Good teams went to waste in that time due to lackluster talent at QB.

Immediately upon insertion, the raw Roethlisberger finally made teams pay for stacking the box against the Steeler’s perennially strong rushing attack. They called him a game manager but any Steeler fan could see that his big, accurate arm finally gave the team the threat of beating you through the air. His career started off with a record string of victories only snapped in the playoffs versus the Brady-led Patriots.

Throughout his career, he has used his size, pocket mobility, and arm to keep the Steelers in the hunt. The combo has been lethal. Can you imagine Rivers — believe it or not a similar size — competing behind some of the Steelers lines over the years? Even when the line did its job, Roethlisberger was extending plays and playing sandlot football extraordinaire. Both Rivers and Manning loved to throw it at the offensive lineman’s feet when pressured. This isn’t always a bad thing, but the unique threat of Big Ben brought his team to another level.

Three Super Bowl appearances and two victories later, Roethlisberger sits with Manning tied for Lombardi trophies. Though he didn’t win MVP in those games, he arguably should have won instead of Santonio Holmes. Big Ben’s pass to Santonio Holmes was every bit as perfect as Holmes’ catch, and, actually, he threw the perfect pass to Holmes the play before – which Holmes muffed. Also, Roethlisberger’s frantic scrambling and play-extension on that game winning drive was the stuff of legends. Had he not run around like a chicken-with-its-head-cut-off, Holmes doesn’t get open for his catches.

The politics of Ben’s legal issues at the time may have played a part in him not receiving MVP. Who knows?

Again, imagine how many times Rivers and Manning would have thrown the ball at their lineman’s feet on that game-winning drive as the pocket continually collapsed. Rivers and Manning played to live for another down, whereas Big Ben played/plays like every down is his last down.

Unlike Manning and — yes — Rivers, Roethlisberger is still competing at a high level if the first few weeks are any indication. If there has been a drop in his ability, it appears to be negligible. With this talented team around him, he is in legitimate competition for more rings. And unlike Rivers, Roethlisberger has the talent still to take the team on his back. If not anything else, he appears poised to add victories and stats to an already high haul of both.

So, Ben Roethlisberger has the stats, the championships, the elite play, the surefire Hall of Fame ticket, and the longevity. He checks all the boxes. And, finally, the last picked elite QB of the 2004 draft has the thing he most desired on his draft day.

He has become the undeniable greatest of his class.

9 players mentioned by Mike Tomlin in Tuesday’s press conference

4 hours 56 min ago
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers head coach was asked lots of questions about the team’s performance thus far in 2020.

The Steelers 2020 regular season is getting more on a roll. The only time we can expect to hear from head coach Mike Tomlin is during his regular Tuesday and post game press conferences, although he may sprinkle in some practice interviews along the way. While not always asked about specific players, this week had several questions, although the lack of questions about the offensive line with the hopeful return of David DeCastro was quite frustrating. Since Coach Tomlin gave us the material, we’ll take a look at the players mentioned in Tomlin’s press conference. Remember these players are ones brought up during the question and answer period.

Eric Ebron

One of the Steelers new players who has been easing his way into the box score is new tight end Eric Ebron. Coach Tomlin was asked if it has been a learning process for Ebron to get targets.

“It’s early. Keep watching. That is all I can say to that. At this juncture in the season, you can ask a lot of those types of questions. A two-game body of work is not a big enough sample to assess. We are pleased with the development of Ebron and his role within our system and time will tell that story as we proceed.”

Chase Claypool

The Steelers top draft pick in 2020 has already made a difference in the Steelers first two games. Coach Tomlin was asked about the process in evaluating Chase Claypool for the NFL draft both as a receiver and special-teams player.

“I think it started for Kevin (Colbert) and I personally in Mobile. We have an opportunity to go to practices in Mobile, and you know how we covet those opportunities to get down on the field and get close to the draft class and watch them work and receive instruction. We were just really impressed with him as a football player no matter what was going on down there. Whether it was special teams drills and he was playing gunner or what have you or blocking drills where he was competing against DBs, he just showed the type of football character that we covet. A guy that is a competitor in all circumstances and obviously we like his wide receiver talents. I think it started there for us.”

Josh Dobbs

One of the challenges the Steelers will have in Week 3 is defending Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. Coach Tomlin was asked if third-string quarterback Josh Dobbs has similar attributes as Watson and if he can help prepare the defense.

“He does in terms of mobility and we may employ that. But we are more concerned with his throwing capabilities. This is a guy that is capable of escaping and runs when he chooses. This is a guy that is capable of hurting you from the pocket with his arm, and that better be our first priority in terms of minimizing his impact on the game and the things that he is able to do in terms of extending plays or adlibbing with his legs better be secondary for us.”

Ben Roethlisberger

There is no denying the difference the return of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has made to the 2020 Steelers. Coach Tomlin was asked to assess Rothlisberger‘s decision making and on-field play so far this season.

“I like where he is. I think there is more meat on the bone. I’m excited about him continuing to knock the rust off and finding his All-Pro form, if you will.”

Mike Hilton & Cameron Sutton

Another strength for the Pittsburgh Steelers is their depth at certain positions on the defense. Coach Tomlin was asked to assess his defensive depth and he chose to specifically point out both Hilton in Sutton.

“We need to play a lot of people, particularly as it pertains to rushing the quarterback. We have to keep fresh people available to us there and on possession downs, the game itself at this level as become such a subpackage game that quality subpackage defenders like Mike Hilton and Cam Sutton—whether or not they come out of the tunnel and are listed as starters or not—have major roles for us. The downs that they play on possession downs are significant ones and it makes them significant components of our strategic defensive structure.”

T.J. Watt, Derek Watt, & Bud Dupree

A lot has been made of brothers T.J. and Derek Watt both being on the Steelers. With their big brother J.J. coming to town this week, Coach Tomlin was asked about the family aspect of the Watts and if there was anything he would like to share about them.

“Just in terms of the lineage aspect of it, I think a lot can be benefitted from being around this game at this level and having those close to you have experience in that area. I think there are less unknowns when you come from the circumstances of some of the people that you mentioned. I think they have a better perspective of the challenge that lies ahead and I think all of that allows them to work more efficiently, to be surprised less and to be better generally prepared from the neck up, if you will, in terms of meeting the challenges. Your dad’s exposure, your brother’s exposure doesn’t make plays for you, but it does educate you and, hopefully, raise the floor. And that is some of the things that I talk about when I talk about having guys who have siblings that have been involved in this game at this level or parents. I just think it’s helpful from a knowledge and exposure standpoint.”

Coach Tomlin was asked a follow-up question specifically about Derek Watt and the sample size of his performance at fullback.

“I think it can apply to him, and particularly it can apply to our utilization of the fullback position. Those of you that have followed us over the year know that we don’t use the fullback to the same degree week in and week out. There could be several weeks where there could be a minimal role and there could be a several week stretch where it could be a significant role. We didn’t keep any secrets in that regard. I think that is the nature of everybody’s global use of the position in today’s game and that is why his usefulness and abilities in the special teams area was a significant component of us acquiring him as well. And I think that you would agree that he has been very significant in that area, registering stats in both games. A safety and splitting a double team at the 20-yardline last week to mention a few of those.”

An additional follow-up question was asked about relying on T.J. when the Steelers considered signing Derek in the offseason, and if the Watt brothers motivate each other in practice. In his response, Coach Tomlin stated T.J. Watt generally only communicates with Bud Dupree during practice.

“We didn’t lean on T.J. at all. These guys are professionals and Derek has to make the very best decisions for his family. He is married with a child, so I’m sure he didn’t come to Pittsburgh to play with his brother. Although, I’m sure that was an exciting element of it. It was a great business opportunity for him. I don’t notice a lot of interaction in a practice setting from those guys, particularly from T.J. T.J. is a lone wolf from a preparation standpoint, if you will. I don’t know if he talks to anyone other than Bud in a practice setting.”

For a full recap of Mike Tomlin’s press conference, check out our podcast recap below:

Mike Tomlin’s interview can be seen here:

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our game against the Houston Texans. https://t.co/Ytyzio7olu

— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) September 22, 2020

Podcast: What else can Steelers fans ask for after two weeks?

5 hours 26 min ago

Jeff Hartman brings an AM studio show to the BTSC family of podcasts with the latest episode of “Let’s Ride“.

The Steelers haven’t started off their 2020 season without issues. Their offensive line has been decimated by injury, the running game is in flux and the secondary isn’t quite resembling their 2019 brilliant selves. But the fact of the matter remains that the Steelers are undefeated to start 2020. What else can Steelers fans ask for after two weeks? This is the main topic that will be discussed on the latest episode of the morning flagship show in the BTSC family of podcasts. Join Co-Editor Jeff Hartman with his show, “Let’s Ride” as he celebrates the first two weeks of the Steelers 2020 season.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • What else can Steelers fans ask for after two weeks?
  • and MUCH MORE!

Jeff Hartman of BTSC walks you through everything you need to know regarding the Black-and-Gold.

Be sure to check out this and all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

You can listen to the show in the player below.

Black and Gold Links: Chase Claypool is not just a receiver, he is a pure football player

6 hours 26 min ago
handout photo

Time to check on the latest news surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It has been a one-of-a-kind offseason for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2020. The Steelers have finally taken the field in the regular season! It is to check in on all things black-and-gold as the team rolls through their 2020 schedule!

Today in the black-and-gold links article we take a look at how Chase Claypool isn’t just a quality wide receiver, he is a pure football player.

Let’s get to the news:

  • Chase Claypool is a football player, not just a wide receiver. As Jon Gruden would say, “I like that guy...”

Catching passes or making tackles, Steelers’ Chase Claypool likes to go deep

By: Joe Rutter, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Contrary to what showed up in the game summary Sunday, Chase Claypool’s 84-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter wasn’t the first long-distance play the Pittsburgh Steelers rookie wide receiver made in a 26-21 victory against the Denver Broncos.

It certainly was the most impactful. It definitely was the most exciting.

It just wasn’t the first time Claypool ran the length of the field to make a play.

That came on the opening kickoff when Claypool stopped Diontae Spencer at the Denver 20 after a 16-yard return.

It was one of three plays Claypool made on special teams — one solo tackle, two assists — in addition to his three receptions for 88 yards that included the fourth-longest touchdown catch by a rookie in franchise history.

“He’s not just a one-trick pony,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “He’s working to round out all aspects of his game and contribute to us in as many ways as he can.”

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • All the injuries because of no preseason? Nope.

Tim Benz: Blaming rash of NFL injuries on canceled preseason is way off

By: Tim Benz, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

The Steelers offensive line is already chewed up. But don’t shed a tear for the Black and Gold.

Yet.

A lot of NFL teams have been bitten much harder by the injury bug. Sunday’s Week 2 led to outright fantasy league carnage.

New York Giants star running back Saquon Barkley tore an ACL against the Chicago Bears. He’ll be out for the rest of the season. Running backs Christian McCaffrey (Carolina Panthers, ankle) and Raheem Mostert (San Francisco 49ers, knee) could miss multiple weeks.

The 49ers are also dealing with injuries to quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (ankle) and All-Pro tight end George Kittle (knee). They lost star defensive lineman Nick Bosa because of an ACL, too.

New Orleans Saints All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas missed his team’s Monday night game against the Las Vegas Raiders with an ankle problem. During their game against the Steelers at Heinz Field, the Denver Broncos saw Courtland Sutton tear an ACL and Drew Lock injure a rotator cuff. Seattle Seahawks pass rusher Bruce Irvin tore an ACL on Sunday night versus the New England Patriots.

And that list is just scratching the surface.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

  • Yeah, about those penalties...

Tomlin throws a flag on team’s 10 penalties

By: Bob Labriola, Steelers.com

Three penalties for 21 yards is acceptable. Ten penalties for 89 yards is the opposite of that.

The Steelers are 2-0 to open a regular season for the first time since 2017, but last Sunday at Heinz Field they appeared at times to be trying hard to prevent that from happening. But in the end, they made enough plays to overcome themselves.

“We were too highly penalized in the game,” said Coach Mike Tomlin at his weekly news conference to echo what he said immediately after the 26-21 victory over the Denver Broncos. “It hurt our efforts on both sides of the ball. It hurt our efforts in terms of possessing the ball on offense. We had two critical holding calls in the first half of the game that put us behind the chains and essentially stopped drives. Ball possession and drives, there’s too much scarcity in that discussion to get major penalties and throw yourself behind the chains. We’re just not good enough to overcome those things at this juncture. I would imagine not many of us in this game are that good at this juncture.”

The two offensive holding calls in the first half both were assigned to tight ends. With the Steelers holding a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, a holding penalty on Vance McDonald nullified a 16-yard run by James Conner on a first-and-10 from the Pittsburgh 42-yard line and disrupted what looked at the time to be some decent rhythm by the offense. That possession ended shortly after with a punt.

The second holding call was on Eric Ebron, and it turned a second-and-8 at midfield into a second-and-18, and two plays later the Steelers again were in punt formation.

To read the full article, click HERE (Free)

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T.J. Watt is dominating in 2020, and PFF agrees

FILM ROOM: Is Mike Hilton the Steelers’ most dynamic defender?

The Steelers taking the ball away was not just a 2019 thing

Checking out the Steelers’ Week 2 Stock Report

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  • Mike Tomlin’s Press Conference

#LIVE: Coach Tomlin addresses the media ahead of our game against the Houston Texans. https://t.co/Ytyzio7olu

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  • Social Media Madness

.@missi_matthews, @BobLabriola, @TunchIlkin and @CharlieBatch16 discuss our win over the Broncos, the defense, the offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger and more on @SteelersLive The Extra Point, presented by @surface.

Full ⬇️

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Extending the play.
Getting the job done.@_BigBen7 | @Juiceup__3 pic.twitter.com/3GjqWGsHdn

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Transaction shows Daniel McCullers’ time in Pittsburgh has come to an end

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 5:31pm
Philip G. Pavely-USA TODAY Sports

It could actually be the end of the road for “Big” Dan McCullers in Pittsburgh.

There has been an ongoing joke among Pittsburgh Steelers fans regarding Daniel McCullers’ tenure in the Steel City. No one has earned more money Pittsburgh without playing significant snaps than McCullers.

Every year fans and experts predicted the end of the road for McCullers, and when the rosters were cut down to 53, the man they called the “Shade Tree” would find his way on the roster.

His size immediately had him brimming with potential, but tapping into that potential was something which the Steelers’ coaching staff simply couldn’t get from the former Tennessee product. The Steelers made it very clear they valued McCullers, but not enough for an active roster spot. Prior to the start of the 2020 season, McCullers took a veteran, and unprotected, spot on the team’s expanded practice squad. However, the latest NFL transaction report shows McCullers’ time in Pittsburgh might be coming to an end.

This per Brooke Pryor of ESPN:

Per NFL transaction report, Steelers DL Dan McCullers listed under "CONTRACTS TERMINATED BY PLAYER" category.

Most that end up there are PS players who sign to active rosters. Seems like Big Dan is headed to another club.

— Brooke Pryor (@bepryor) September 22, 2020

In his previous six season after being drafted by the Steelers in the 6th round of the 2014 NFL draft out of Tennessee, McCullers played in a total of 73 regular season games while being credited with 3 starts. McCullers was credited with 41 total tackles, 2.5 career sacks, 9 quarterback hits, and 2 passes defensed. The majority of McCullers stats came in 2016 when he appeared in every game and 17 tackles, one sack, one pass defensed, and 5 quarterback hits.

The transaction means the Steelers will be able to bring someone else onto their expanded roster spot, so be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news on this story, as well as where McCullers lands prior to Week 3 of the regular season. In the meantime, we will have the upcoming Week 3 game between the Steelers and Houston Texans broken down inside and out for Steelers fans to enjoy. Stay tuned!

BTSC Survivor Pool Update: Week 2 results

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 3:30pm
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

There were only seven picks which were incorrect, but many more were eliminated.

The Behind The Steel Curtain survivor pool continued on in Week 2. With almost half of the contestants eliminated in Week 1, the choices in Week 2 were much easier after having at least a one-game sample. While technically there were 355 total entries, I have one entry in each league as the commissioner so there were 352 different contestants. Hundreds have entered, but only one can go home with the autographed Maurkice Pouncey football.

The most common selection for Week 2 was the San Francisco 49ers visiting the New York Jets which led the way in three of the four leagues. This game was over not long after kickoff as the 49ers ran for an 80-yard touchdown on their first offensive play and had a 21-3 lead at the end of the first half. Even after losing three key players, the outcome of the game was never in doubt.

The second most popular pick was the Green Bay Packers over the Detroit Lions. The Lions jumped out to a 14-3 lead to end the first quarter but found themselves trailing by a field goal by halftime. The Packers actually scored 31 unanswered points through the 2nd and 3rd quarters and never looked back.

A decent number of contestants (including myself) had to sweat it out by choosing Kansas City who had to come from behind against the Chargers to force overtime. Thanks to a pair of 58-yard field goals, the Chiefs left Los Angeles victorious.

As for the incorrect picks, only seven people were eliminated by selecting an incorrect game. Five of the seven eliminated came on Monday night when the New Orleans Saints fell to the Las Vegas Raiders. Unfortunately it was the 29 entries who failed to make a pick which lead the number of eliminations.

So after two weeks, only 46% of the entries still remain. If you are still alive, make sure you enter your pick early so you don’t get knocked out due to a lack of selection. This is your reminder, so go make your pick now!

Weekly Update: Upcoming Week 3 Games of Note:
  • Most heavily favored: Indianapolis (-10.5) at home over the New York Jets
  • Closest match up: Three teams favored by 2.5 (Jacksonville, Tennessee, and Buffalo)
  • The Steelers match up: Pittsburgh (-3.5) at home over Houston

(all lines are courtesy of oddshark.com as on 9/21)

So there you have it! Make sure you check back at Behind The Steel Curtain to stay updated on the contest. Even if you did not enter or have already been eliminated, feel free to check in and see how you would have fared each week.

PFF highlights how the Steelers Week 2 game was won in the trenches

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 2:00pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0, and PFF shows fans how it happened.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0. That by itself is something to celebrate, but after wins over the New York Giants in Week 1, and the Denver Broncos in Week 2, fans are wondering just how good this team is as they prepare for the Houston Texans in Week 3.

To answer that question, it is worth going back and taking a look at the game that was and diagnosing what went right, and what went wrong, during the Steelers’ win over the Broncos at Heinz Field Sunday.

The experts at PFF give their breakdown of the game and it further illustrates just how the Steelers won the game — in the trenches.

Take a look at what PFF had to say about the game in its entirety:

STORY OF THE GAME

Backup quarterback Jeff Driskel was forced into action midway through the first quarter, and considering the circumstances, he certainly exceeded expectations. Just like last week, the Steelers’ offensive line was utterly dominant. The unit pressured Lock and Driskel on 28 of their combined 47 dropbacks.

They easily have the highest pressure rate of any defense in the NFL this season. Left guard Dalton Risner, center Lloyd Cushenberry III and right tackle Elijah Wilkinson all allowed four-plus pressures on the day, and every single Broncos offensive lineman allowed multiple pressures. Those poor performances correlated with dominant performances from Tyson Alualu, Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt.

The outstanding effort from Pittsburgh’s defensive line masked Ben Roethlisberger‘s up-and-down day. While he went for over 300 yards, Roethlisberger had a pair of turnover-worthy plays despite being barely pressured (seven times on 42 dropbacks). He was helped out by Diontae Johnson going off for eight catches for 92 yards with two broken tackles. However, Johnson also dropped a pass to sum up an inconsistent day for the Steelers’ offense.

Another aspect of the breakdown by PFF is their ‘Rookie Watch’ segment. Here is where they highlight players who are in their first year as a professional, and how they did in the latest game. Obviously, Steelers’ top draft pick, Chase Claypool from Notre Dame, has drawn rave reviews during his brief stint in the league.

ROOKIE WATCH

Another week, another highlight reel grab from Chase Claypool. This time, he took fellow rookie Michael Ojemudia to the house for an 84-yard touchdwown. It was a rough one for Ojemudia, who allowed nearly 150 yards and two scores on his own.

He wasn’t the only Bronocs rookie who struggled, though. Center Lloyd Cushenberry couldn’t hold up against Tyson Alualu, allowing eight pressures on 47 pass-blocking snaps. That was the complete opposite from what we saw from Steelers guard Kevin Dotson, who made his first career start. He didn’t allow a single pressure all day on 42 pass-blocking snaps in an impressive debut.

What are your thoughts on the Steelers’ most recent victory, and, more importantly, the entire rookie class, not just Claypool? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below, and be sure to stay tuned to BTSC for the latest news and notes surrounding the black-and-gold as they host the Texans this Sunday for a 1 p.m. kickoff.

Power Rankings: Steelers sky-rocket up the rankings with 2-0 start

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 12:45pm
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Steelers continue to rise up the rankings after their 26-21 victory over the Broncos.

The Pittsburgh Steelers, along with the rest of the NFL, are coming off the second week of a journey which has never been done in the history of the game. Playing games amidst a global pandemic.

The league has done tremendous work with protocols and adjustments to make sure this season goes off without a hitch, and while many didn’t think it was possible, here we are with the first two weeks in the rear view mirror, and all 32 teams going full steam ahead into Week 3.

Who do the experts think will be the team to beat this season? Power Rankings are one way to decipher who they like, or don’t like, at any particular juncture of the season. Heading into Week 3, there is a lot which can be expected. The Chiefs and Baltimore Ravens find themselves near the top of most rankings, while the Seattle Seahawks or Green Bay Packers are everyone’s favorite now in the NFC.

Where do the Steelers fall? Well that depends. Some see the black-and-gold as a Top 10 team, while other see them on the outside looking in. Take a look at some of the Power Rankings below, and be sure to let us know what you think of the rankings in the comment section below!

ESPN

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Baltimore Ravens
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. Green Bay Packers
5. New Orleans Saints
6. Buffalo Bills
7. Los Angeles Rams
8. Tennessee Titans
9. San Francisco 49ers
10. New England Patriots
...
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
Under-the-radar fantasy standout: WR Diontae Johnson

It’s hard to call Johnson under the radar when he was a trendy sleeper pick before the season. He is inconsistent and has started games slowly; but he has eight receptions on 13 targets, and he led the Steelers with 92 receiving yards against the Broncos. If Johnson becomes a bona fide WR1 in fantasy, keep an eye on Chase Claypool to develop into the next under-the-radar asset. Claypool has been targeted five times and has five catches — including an 84-yard touchdown against the Broncos. “

CBS Sports

1. Kansas City Chiefs
2. Green Bay Packers
3. Baltimore Ravens
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
“They didn’t quite dominate the way I expected against the Broncos - especially with a backup quarterback playing for Denver. They have to play better against the good teams.”
5. Buffalo Bills
6. Seattle Seahawks
7. Arizona Cardinals
8. Los Angeles Rams
9. Tennessee Titans
10. Las Vegas Raiders

Sports Illustrated

1. Seattle Seahawks
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Baltimore Ravens
4. Buffalo Bills
5. Green Bay Packers
6. New Orleans Saints
7. Arizona Cardinals
8. Pittsburgh Steelers
Ben Roethlisberger is warming himself up, James Conner is breaking out and, in potentially dangerous news for opponents, Chase Claypool is establishing himself as a big-play candidate who could ruin defensive gameplans.”
9. New England Patriots
10. Los Angeles Rams

USA Today

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Seattle Seahawks
4. Green Bay Packers
5. Pittsburgh Steelers
“Keep an eye on rookie WR Chase Claypool, whose 84-yard TD reception Sunday is 2020’s longest play to date and the longest by a Canadian-born player.”
6. New Orleans Saints
7. Arizona Cardinals
8. Tenessee Titans
9. New England Patriots
10. San Francisco 49ers

NFL.com

1. Baltimore Ravens
2. Kansas City Chiefs
3. Green Bay Packers
4. Pittsburgh Steelers
“The Steelers represent a pick-your-poison situation for opposing defenses right now. Second-round pick Chase Claypool had an 84-yard touchdown against the Broncos and has been an instant difference-maker through two weeks. Diontae Johnson is on his way to a big season, and JuJu Smith-Schuster has his mojo back after a 2019 that fizzled behind injuries and poor QB play. Which takes us to Ben Roethlisberger, who missed most of last season but somehow managed to return as exactly the same player he was before his right elbow imploded. No acclimation period necessary for Large Benjamin. The Steelers are scary.”
5. Seattle Seahawks
6. Buffalo Bills
7. Tennessee Titans
8. Los Angeles Rams
9. New Orleans Saints
10. New England Patriots

David DeCastro set to return to practice this week

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 11:59am
Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Steelers All-Pro guard is hoping to take the next step this week to get back on the field

In his weekly press conference on Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin gave an update on injured All-Pro guard David DeCastro. According to Tomlin, DeCastro appears ready to return to practice this week and could be available for the Steelers’ Week 3 matchup against the Houston Texans.

David DeCastro is scheduled to practice this week and could be available Sunday to play against Houston depending on how he fares in practice.

— Joe Rutter (@tribjoerutter) September 22, 2020

Going into the Steelers Week 2 game against the Denver Broncos, the right side of the Steelers offensive line was a large area of concern as both players who started the previous week were out with injuries. On back-to-back plays in Week 1, Stefen Wisniewski left the game with a pectoral injury which will keep him out a minimum of three weeks as he has been placed on the Reserve/Injured List. The next play, Steelers tackle Zach Banner was lost for the season with an ACL injury.

The concern for Week 2 rested some with right tackle Chukwuma Okorafor who was narrowly beat out for the starting job by Banner. The larger concern was with rookie Kevin Dotson who would make his first start of his NFL career at right guard.

When it came to the production of the right side of the offensive line in Week 2, not only was it adequate, it was arguably one of the team’s strengths. And not only did Kevin Dotson prove to not be a liability for the Steelers, he possibly had the best game of any offensive lineman on the Steelers.

So what will the return of DeCastro do to the Steelers offensive line? Will he plug back in at his typical right guard position and Dotson will slide back into the reserve role? Will the Steelers shuffle things around to get the best players on the field?

First and foremost, DeCastro will have to be able to get back on the field to play this week. If not, look for the Steelers to keep the same offensive line which played every snap in their Week 2 victory over the Broncos.

But if the Steelers to get back there All-Pro guard who has been their best offensive lineman over the last several years, having more quality players available then what the Steelers can get on the field is a good problem to have. Exactly how the Steelers will work it out remains to be seen.

Stay tuned to Behind The Steel Curtain for all your Steelers’ news as they prepare to take on the Houston Texans at Heinz Field this Sunday.

Check out the full run down from Mike Tomlin’s press conference in the short podcast below:

Podcast: Kinks can be worked out, so embrace the 2-0 Steelers

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 11:00am

In the latest episode of “Steelers Hangover” show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo look at the Steelers season and how far they could go in 2020 if injury free.

The Pittsburgh Steelers looked to be in cruise control for a large portion of the home opener on Sunday, but then the Denver Broncos got in the fast lane and almost overtook the black-and-Gold. The Steelers recovered to beat the team from Colorado, but worry still overtook Steeler Nation. Sure the Steelers didn’t run away with the game, but those kinks can be ironed out. Celebrate your 2-0 Steelers. This is the subject that will be discussed on the latest episode of the BTSC podcast The Steelers Hangover. On this show, Bryan Anthony Davis and Tony Defeo break down all things Steelers! Join the veteran duo as they analyze all things black-and-gold.

Check out the rundown of the show:

  • News and Notes
  • Kinks can be worked out, so embrace the 2-0 Steelers
  • Steelers Q&A
  • and MUCH MORE!

If you haven’t heard, we have a YouTube channel, and the main reason for this is to increase the sound quality on our shows. But if you’re a visual learner you can watch the show below. Be sure to subscribe to our channel!

If you missed the live show, be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE

Spotify: CLICK HERE

Google Play: CLICK HERE

If you’re old-school and just want the audio, you can listen to it in the player below.

Part 1

Part 2

T.J. Watt named PFF’s top graded pass rusher for second consecutive week

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 10:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The youngest Watt looks like the early front runner for the NFL defensive player of the year award

Steelers linebacker, T.J. Watt has been named the highest graded edge defender for a second consecutive week by pro football focus. Watt has gone two for two throughout the young 2020 season. If you question whether or not he can keep this trend up, Watt was the overall 2019 season leader amongst all edge rushers.

T.J. Watt
Myles Garrett
Khalil Mack

The highest-graded edge defenders from Week 2 pic.twitter.com/SqZpXC0fA6

— PFF (@PFF) September 21, 2020

Watt had the stats to back up his high grade against the Broncos. T.J. picked up 2.5 sacks which skyrocketed him atop the NFL leader board. Watt also picked up four tackles, four quarterback hits, and two tackles for loss.

On paper Watt didn't put up the same kind of pass rushing numbers in Week 1, but he did knock down two passes, and pick up an interception. Watt almost nearly added a sack/fumble against the giants but the ball unfortunately landed in the hands of a Giants player in the end zone. Obviously the Steelers wouldn't want to challenge the play giving the Giants points so the stat disappears forever.

New year, same T.J. Watt

93.7 PFF Grade

Highest-graded ED in week 1 pic.twitter.com/VS7WBZKZuP

— PFF PIT Steelers (@PFF_Steelers) September 15, 2020

While it is early, T.J. Watt must be viewed as the early leader for the NFL’s defensive player of the year award. After a huge 2019 season, many members of Steelers nation felt Watt should have walked away with the award. While there's so much football left to be played, the combination of Watt’s history and his level of dominance in 2020 might make voters more inclined to put the fourth year Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker on their ballots.

The highest-graded edge rushers of 2019:

1. T.J. Watt - 91.3
2. Za'Darius Smith - 90.2
3. Arik Armstead - 89.8
4. Carlos Dunlap - 89.7
5. Joey Bosa/J.J. Watt - 89.6 pic.twitter.com/GcXC1Fk0X5

— PFF (@PFF) August 24, 2020

What do you think? Will T.J. Watt be able to keep up this level of play throughout the 2020 season? Is he going to bring home the DPOY award this year? Let us know down in the comments below.

It looks like the Steelers’ takeaway trend isn’t just a 2019 thing

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 9:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

With two more takeaways in Week 2, the Steelers defense appears to be about as opportunistic as it was in 2019. Turns out, you don’t need much luck to create a lot of turnovers, you just need a lot of really good defenders.

As the Steelers prepared for their 2020 regular season, one of the questions that came up over and over again was whether or not the defense could be as prolific at taking the football away as it was a season earlier, when it recorded 38.

Considering the unit totaled a less than pedestrian 15 in 2018, that was a legitimate question, to be sure. Also, prior to 2019, taking the football away had been a major problem for Pittsburgh’s defense for close to a decade. The Steelers averaged roughly 19 takeaways between 2011-2018, or almost half as many as was the standard for Super Bowl teams over the years.

Nobody had any concerns about the defense’s ability to get after the quarterback, something that Keith Butler’s unit had been quite relentless at doing since the second half of the 2016 campaign.

So, with two games already in the books for the 2020 regular season, how are things looking for the Steelers defense? Things are looking pretty good.

Pittsburgh has recorded 10 quarterback sacks so far—including a whopping seven in a 26-21 victory over the bucking Broncos Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field. To reiterate, that’s no surprise for a unit that hasn’t been on the negative side of 50 sacks in any season since 2016. As for the opportunistic side to the Steelers defense? It would appear it’s willing and able to try and reproduce the results of a season earlier. With two more takeaways on Sunday—including a fumble recovery by cornerback Mike Hilton off of a strip sack by linebacker Bud Dupree and an interception by cornerback Joe Haden—Pittsburgh now has four on the season.

If you’re good at math, or even bad, you can probably figure out that the Steelers will finish with 32 on the season if they keep up this current pace.

Not quite as prolific as 2019, but just about good enough for Super Bowl work. A lot of people say luck is involved in taking the football away. Maybe when you’re talking about a quirky bounce here or a dropped interception there over the course of the season, that could be the difference between finishing with 38 takeaways and 32. However, when you’re simply talking about being good at creating turnovers, there isn’t much luck in that.

Nope, you need a whole lot of Cam Heyward, T.J. Watt, Bud Dupree and Minkah Fitzpatrick. In other words, you need play-makers, you need defenders who can relentlessly wreak havoc and create a plethora of opportunities. If enough footballs get stripped away from enough quarterbacks, if enough passes reach the mitts of enough defensive backs and linebackers, and if enough of your defenders are really talented, that leads to an opportunistic defense.

The Steelers have an opportunistic defense.

Will Pittsburgh produce 38 takeaways again in 2020? That remains to be seen, but the Steelers defense is clearly talented enough to repeat or even exceed that number.

And there will be little luck involved, if it does.

Film Room: Is Mike Hilton the most dangerous slot defender in the NFL?

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 8:30am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Looking at Mike Hilton’s big game for the Steelers in Week 2.

Mike Hilton is having a great start to the 2020 NFL season. So far the Steelers nickelback has 2 sacks, 2 passes defended, 3 tackles for a loss, 4 quarterback hits, and 11 solo tackles. That’s a pretty good start, but where does it rank him on the Steelers?

That puts him second only to T.J. Watt on the Steelers for sacks. He is tied with Watt for second in tackles for a loss, behind only Vince Williams. Hilton ranks second in quarterback hits, tied with Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward and behind only T.J. Watt. Hilton is tied with Devin Bush for the team lead in solo tackles, first in fumble recoveries (on defense) and Hilton leads all defensive backs in passes defended.

He’s done all that while allowing 11 yards in coverage. If Hilton was a house hold name before the start of the season the whole nation would be talking about him right now. If Terrell Edmunds had these stats everyone would be talking about him. If Mike Hilton keeps up his incredible production they will be talking about him soon enough. But it isn’t just stats, his film has a lot to say about him too.

Blitzing and run defense

Mike Hilton has linebacker stats right now, and on film he often plays like one.

1st quarter, 2:22. Mike Hilton is the slot defender to the bottom of the screen, He moves with the motion.

Jake Butt is listed at 6’6” and 250 lbs, Mike Hilton is listed at 5’9”, 184 lbs. But this matchup goes to HIlton, who grabs Melvin Gordon’s legs for the 2-yard loss.

4th quarter, 2:36. Mike Hilton is to the top of the screen, approaching the line right before the snap.

The Broncos run away from Mike Hilton on this play, and they have the run well blocked. Mike Hilton evades Tim Patrick, a 6’4” 212 wide receiver that tries to block him and runs Gordon down 2 yards short of the first down.

4th quarter, 9:41. Mike HIlton is to the bottom of the screen, he backs out of the shot right before the snap, then comes back on at the end.

This is a rare play where Mike Hilton is playing safety for Terrell Edmunds. Hilton does a good job reading the run, and coming up to take Gordon’s legs out from under him.

Mike Hilton made plays against the run all day, and from every possible position.

His blitzing doesn’t just lead to run stops though.

2nd quarter, 14:06. Mike Hilton is on the line, furthest to the top of the screen.

This is perfectly timed. Yesterday I covered the Broncos trying a similar blitz against the Steelers where the slot corner committed a bit to early and tipped off Ben Roethlisberger that he was coming, and the Steelers scored a touchdown. HIlton waits till the quarterback’s head goes down and he is looking for the ball to make his move, and he’s on the quarterback before anyone knows what is going on.

In coverage

Hilton is a great blitzer, most people will concede that, but they will also tell you he isn’t very good in coverage. But so far, in 2020, that is not the case at all.

2nd quarter, 12:51. Mike HIlton is the slot corner to the bottom of the screen, starts the play about 7 yards deep.

The Broncos face a 3rd down and 25 yards to go. The Steelers back off the line, knowing they can give up plenty of yards and still win the play. Mike Hilton doesn’t like giving up yards though, and this screen gains all of 1 yard, forcing the Broncos kicker to make a 49 yard field goal instead of a shorter one.

4th quarter, 3:09. Mike Hilton is the slot defender to the top of the screen, he backs off the screen as the play starts.

Again the Steelers are willing to give up some yards to prevent a big play, and Hilton again crashes down to deny any yards after the catch. The play after this one was the run in the first section where Hilton brought down the runner from the backside pursuit. That series of downs would end with a Terrell Edmunds sack to send the Steelers offense back onto the field to end the game. Mike Hilton played a huge role in ending that drive and sealing a victory for the Steelers.

Mike Hilton struggles the most when he is tasked with man coverage against a deep route. The Steelers have limited the risk on those plays by having Minkah Fitzpatrick at free safety to provide help and using defensive switches that keep HIlton on shorter routes where he is far more dangerous to the opposing team. But when the Steelers are looking to take away the deep pass, and he can give himself a cushion to work with, Hilton does a fine job in deep coverage.

2nd quarter, 0:31. Mike Hilton is the second corner from the top of the screen

K.J. Hamler is lightning fast, but with a cushion, Mike Hilton is able to stay on his hip on this deep route, shrinking the window the quarterback has to make the play.

4th quarter, 4:05. Mike HIlton is the second corner from the top of the screen.

This one is even better. Matched up on Jerry Jeudy, HIlton again is right with him and denies Jeudy any chance of making the catch.

Conclusion

Mike Hilton has been the best blitzing cornerback in the NFL for the last 4 years. In a contract year Mike Hilton is taking his game to a higher level. in 2019 Hilton had 1.5 sacks, 6 tackles for a loss and 5 quarterback hits for the season. He has 2 sacks, 3 tackles for a loss and 4 quarterback hits in 2 games of the 2020 season. The Steelers are playing to Hilton’s strengths, and that may change when the Steelers face different offenses, but with slot receivers being the most valuable offensive weapons in the NFL, by both yards per route run and DVOA, a player like Mike Hilton who can shut down slot receivers while creating havoc with his blitzes and run defense is incredibly valuable.

If you look at players the Steelers have been acquiring the last few years, you can see a trend of picking up defensive backs that can blitz and cover. The Steelers realize the importance of that role on the defense, and while there are a lot of players that might project well in that role, they already have a player there already who might be the best in the NFL in that role.

Steelers Stock Report: See whose stock is rising, falling or just holding steady

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 7:15am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

Discussing which Steelers players or positions are trending up, trending down, or simply treading water

Welcome to the latest edition of the Steelers Stock Report of the 2020 NFL season: Denver Broncos edition. I have been granted the distinguished opportunity to attempt to determine which direction individual players, or units, are trending after each weekly matchup, to the best of my ability.

I will attempt to make each determination without the use of my Black-and-Gold glasses, but admittedly I can make no promises.

Let’s get started...

Stock trending up: Kevin Dotson

Admittedly, the decision was much more difficult this week than last. Bud Dupree was a one man wrecking crew last week against the New York Giants. This week the selection for the individual player who's stock is trending up the most wasn't quite as obvious. There were actually three players worthy of the nomination.

T.J. Watt finished the game with 2.5 QB sacks and a handful of pressures, but that was to be expected and he will undoubtedly earn this distinction multiple times this season.

Rookie WR Chase Claypool showed once again all the hype coming out of camp was well earned. Claypool displayed his complete skill set as a receiver on a 84 yard touchdown reception that was a thing of beauty. Throw in a couple of additional catches, some solid blocking in the running game, and three special teams tackles and you can see why Claypool could easily have been selected for the distinction.

However, my selection for this week's player who's stock is trending up is one of the grunts on the offensive line that seldom get the recognition required to qualify. Trust me folks, this young man's recognition is well deserved.

Kevin Dotson's journey to the NFL is a story of inspiration and determination. I feel certain there will be plenty of articles written in the next few days about his perseverance. I want to focus on his unbelievable performance against the Broncos. One desperately needed and appreciated by Ben Roethlisberger and his teammates.

Just how good was Dotson, a rookie who didn't have the benefit of a single preseason snap. A novice football fan would never have known he was in the game. Obscurity is one of the biggest compliments you can give a offensive lineman.

That means no holding calls or false starts that require the referee mentions your existence, or getting blown off the ball while run blocking, or heaven forbid giving up a sack of your "getting a little long in the tooth" franchise QB. That is the kind of attention no offensive lineman strives for.

None of that negative attention for Dotson. Instead he was a shear delight to behold for any Oline aficionado. The young man was a bulldozer of a lineman, a immovable force of nature.

Dotson engages, maintains, and finishes his blocks. Simple as that, regardless of the opponent. Sunday afternoon he walked up to the line of scrimmage, looked five time straight Pro Bowl DT Jurrell Casey right in the eyes, and preceded to shut him down. The youngster manhandles enormous individuals, and moves them out of the way against their will. This is more than just technique and leverage, this is pure power and force.

Dotson was given the game ball by his future HOF QB after the game for his performance. I believe that says it all.

Stock Trending Down: Mike Tomlin

Before any readers decide to drag me over the coals, hear me out. I am referring to Tomlin's continued struggles on when and if to throw the challenge flag.

Last season my angst in these situations diminished substantially, but that old familiar feeling returned in a big way against the Broncos.

In the first half, Cameron Heyward knocked the ball out of Broncos QB Jeff Driskel's grasp before he was taken to the ground by Mike Hilton for a sack. The replay showed what appeared to be a fumble, but no challenge by the Steelers.

In the second half, with the Steelers already down a timeout that was wasted prior to a unsuccessful fourth down attempt on offense earlier in the third quarter, Tomlin threw the challenge flag on a sideline catch by Broncos TE Noah Fant. The replay showed the catch and absolutely no evidence to suggest otherwise. Bad challenge and another wasted timeout. I was under the impression that Assistant Coach Teryl Austin was supposed to be helping him in these situations.

It's almost as if Tomlin is hoping for some good fortune, that the play will be overturned somehow, without the benefit of evidence. Hopes and wishes do not equate to a successful challenge. This has to be rectified before it cost the Steelers a game.

Steelers Stock creating complete overreaction: Steelers defense

After the Steelers complete destruction of the New York Giants offense in Week 1, I saw a couple of articles comparing this Steelers defense to the 1976 Steel Curtain squad. For anybody old enough to remember the Steel Curtain defense at it's peak, the comparison is laughable.

It's nearly impossible to compare two separate eras accurately and fairly to both. The game, and the size and physicality of the players, has completely changed. But that's not what makes the comparison so absurd.

Those Steel Curtain defenses new exactly who they were, and their identity was well established. The current Steelers defense is still trying to find theirs.

With Ben back behind center, the Steelers coaches are confident that the offense will put points on the board, so the defense has come out ultra aggressive. The Steelers pass rush is as formidable as ever, sacking and disrupting the opposing QBs at every turn. However, the constant aggression approach might not be the best style for all their players, or for every upcoming opponent.

The Steelers are putting additional pressure on their excellent secondary, and are achieving mixed results.

Steven Nelson had a nice bounce back performance Sunday, but Joe Haden still doesn't seem comfortable with some of the changes. He has picked up a pass interference penalty in both games, and let Broncos WR Courtland Sutton burn him deep for a long gain. Sutton is the definition of a one trick pony. That was unacceptable for a veteran corner.

Terrell Edmunds played solid as usual, but this week almost made an interception along the sidelines while breaking up a pass, and made the game clinching sack on fourth down to stop the Broncos last drive. But what is going on with Minkah Fitzpatrick? I was touting Fitzpatrick as a DPOY candidate prior to the season, but he is another player that doesn't seem entirely comfortable at this early stage of the season. He seems unsure, borderline tentative at times. Stuck between wanting to be aggressive and make a big play, while also adhering to the integrity of his responsibility on the play. It is honestly a tightrope he is struggling to walk at the moment.

The Steelers defense is still searching for their identity, between being aggressively dominant and fundamentally sound. Hopefully they will meet in the middle one day soon.

NFL Week 3 Betting Preview: Steelers currently a 3.5-point favorite against the Texans

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 6:00am
Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The Steelers are just over a field goal favorite in their first regular week of the 2020 season.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are looking to push their record to 3-0 as the Houston Texans come to Heinz Field for a big Week 3 matchup. Houston is in the third game of a brutal stretch to open the 2020 season where they had to travel to Kansas City, host Baltimore, and then travel to Pittsburgh. For the Steelers, they will finally have a “normal” week as they will have played on Sunday the previous week and play again on Sunday the upcoming game for the first time this year.

Can Steelers get a 100-yard rusher for the third time in Week 3? Will their defense be able to quarterback DeShaun Watson?

When it comes to the betting lines for Sunday’s game, the following information is the current consensus spread and over/under for the Steelers this week as reported by oddsshark.com.

Game Info: Week 7 Pittsburgh Steelers vs Houston Texans Sunday, September 27, 2020 at 1:00 PM

Betting line: -3.5

Over/under: 45

Last Regular Season Meeting: Steelers (W) 34-6 at Texans

Win streak: 2 game PIT

Last 3 Meetings: PIT 2 - 1 HOU

Last 10 Meetings: PIT 4 - 2 HOU (only 6 all-time matchups)

The opening line on the game was at -5 when the schedule was released in May. Although the Steelers have won both of their games while Houston has dropped their first two, the line has moved in Houston’s favor.

Being favored on Sunday, the Steelers have a current moneyline of -185 to win the game straight up, which is the equivalent of 20/37 odds. So a $20 bet placed on the Steelers over the Texans would have a payout of $30.81 ($10.81 plus the original $20 bet). The Texans have a current moneyline of +165, or 33/20 odds. Therefore the same $20 bet placed on Houston to win straight up would have a payout of $53 ($33 pus the original $20 bet) .

According to Oddsshark.com, the Steelers are 1-4 against the spread in their last 5 games as well as being 5-1 straight up the last 6 times they played at Heinz Field. The Steelers also have gone UNDER in 4 of their 6 games against Houston and have gone UNDER the in 8 of their last 10 contests.

If looking at the futures bets, the Steelers odds to win the Super Bowl vary from 20/1 to 25/1. They have odds to win the AFC Championship of 10/1 odds. As for winning the AFC North, the Steelers are currently at 13/5 odds behind Baltimore at 5/13 odds. The Browns are next at 10/1 odds with Cincinnati coming in at the bottom at 80/1 odds to win the AFC North.

Podcast: The Steelers beat more than the Broncos in Week 2

Tue, 09/22/2020 - 5:30am

In the latest podcast on the BTSC family of podcasts, we talk about some burning topics surrounding the Pittsburgh Steelers home opener against the Denver Broncos.

The Denver Broncos proved to be a much more of a difficult opponent in Week 2 then originally prognosticated by many around the football world. The Steelers ended up defeating the professional football team from Colorado by the score of 26-21. It sure wasn’t an easy feat though. After leading by fourteen points, the Steelers were fortunate to escape. With the rash of season-ending injuries that popped up all over the National Football League in Week 2, Pittsburgh was lucky to escape that disaster as well. Join BTSC Deputy Editor Michael Beck as he takes you through the ins-and-outs of the home opener on The Live Mike. As a part of BTSC’s new fall lineup, The Live Mike becomes a studio show on our morning podcast platform every Tuesday.

Be sure to check out all episodes on the following platforms:

Apple Users: CLICK HERE
Spotify: CLICK HERE
Google Play: CLICK HERE

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